Street Art, Street Life

at Bronx Museum of Art (New York) 
September 14, 2008–January 25, 2009 

Wandering through “Street Art, Street Life,” I’m reminded of the title of a 1971 film by Shuji TerayamaThrow Away Your Books, Let’s Go into the Streets. That phrase seems to capture the sensibility that curator Lydia Yee has zeroed in on with this stimulating group show that negotiates the urban street as inspiration. Covering the ’50s to the present, with nearly 100 pieces and 40 artists, the exhibition evinces how social movements like feminism and protest demonstrations seem to work in collusion with both the tradition of outdoor photography and new freedoms from standard artistic convention. The show is perhaps less successful in its efforts to represent a commonality among art movements of the past decades.

Things get off to a slow start in the first gallery, with a series of overly familiar photographs by Robert Frank and William Klein, now-canonical examples of the roughhewn, verité approach to capturing life in the cities with an emphasis on irony, gloom, and, in Klein’s case, agitation. Fluxus is included as another seed, but their Street Events, illustrated by a poster and a few underannotated photos of performances on a fire escape, go unsatisfactorily explained (the poster cryptically reads “Send 50 cents for all announcements”). A collaged gallery invitation to Claes Oldenburg’s exhibition The Street (1960) is a tentative nod to Pop art and Happenings (a more significant precursor to the equation of art with action and the performance activities displayed throughout). Ed Ruscha’s foldout book Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966), though, is a worthy inclusion as the only depiction of Los Angeles in this New York–dominated show. That Ruscha photographed the buildings from a truck, avoiding the confrontational aspect of social interaction on the street that marks so many of the pieces in the show, is telling. Vito Acconci’s First Sight (1969), for which Acconci photo-graphed the first view he got every time he turned a corner while walking in the West Village, is its perfect counterpart (but how ironic that this survey of pedestrian-centric art is located in the Bronx, far afield of the foot traffic for Manhattan’s other galleries and museums).

Lee Friedlander’s photograph New York City (1966), an image of a man’s shadow cast on the back of a woman, elliptically addresses an issue that reverberates throughout the rest of the show—namely, to what extent simply walking out on the street compromises personal space and privacy (issues shared, of course, with photography itself), particularly with regard to women.

from the film 'Rape' by Yoko Ono, 1968

from the film ‘Rape’ by Yoko Ono, 1968

The pursuit of a random person through the streets is the subject of both Acconci’s Following Piece(1969) and Yoko Ono’s film Rape 1968). Acconci is content to let the person off the hook as soon as they enter a building, and moves on to another pedestrian, emphasizing the serial nature of the project and his own seeming aimlessness, but Ono’s message is one of victimization, as she and her film crew follow a woman back into her home, carrying the invasion of privacy a menacing step further. Indian collective Blank Noise Project’s twochannel video Moments of a Long Pause (2008) provides a he said, she said series of interviews made in various cities in India on the issue of sexual harassment on the street.Adrian Piper tries to inhabit the same topic, dressing as a man and issuing catcalls at passing women in her performance The Mythic Being: Cruising White Women (1975). Sitting on a curb near Harvard Square (where she was then a philosophy graduate student), Piper plays not only with racial and gender stereotypes but with the assumptions one makes with only a passing glance—a Conceptualist take on identity politics. Beyond gender, surveillance and voyeurism come into play in Sophie Calle’s The Shadow (Detective) (1981), in which a detective is hired by Calle’s mother (at Calle’s request) to follow her movements on a single day. Calle subverts the private eye’s undertaking by making the object (herself) not only aware but also manipulative of its own observation.


The street can also be called on to provide a reflexive arena for the artworld itself. Xaveria Simmons turns a neighborhood into her studio, inviting local Bronx residents outdoors to model for photographs. 

Tehching Hsieh, who once caged himself in his studio for a year, made his work space public in a more extreme way, living on the streets of Manhattan for an entire year between 1981 and 1982 and swearing to never enter a building. One of the show’s flaws is that it barely recognizes the street as a public-access gallery for graffiti—there’s some lack-and-white photos of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s sAMotags and a hand-colored shot of earlier ’70s graffiti taken by Gordon Matta-Clark, and that’s it (although Matta-Clark’s inclusion is revelatory as one might posit his architectural cuttings as an answer to street art—his own tags, as it were).

And yet, for all the exhibition’s views of populated thoroughfares, it is a 1979 video showing percussionist David Van Tieghem on the deserted streets of Manhattan, drumming out a rhythm on a variety of surfaces to bring out the latent sounds of the city’s debris and structures, that may serve as the ultimate statement of “Street Art, Street Life”: that for an artist, the streets are there not only to be observed, but to be brought to life.

“Street Art, Street Life” originally appeared in the December 2008 / January 2009 issue of Modern Painters. For a complete list of articles from this issue available on ARTINFO, see Modern Painters’ December 2008 / January 2009 Table of Contents.

From Art Info. 

Bronx Museum of the Arts

The Bronx Museum of the Arts
1040 Grand Concourse at 165th Street , Bronx, New York 10456
2008-09-14 to 2009-01-25

Tel: (718) 681-6000
Fax:(718) 681-6181


Street Art, Street Life: From the 1950s to Now to Take Viewers from
Boulevards of Paris and Sidewalks of New York to New Vertical Canyons of Beijing
Bronx, NY — Vanguard artists have long looked to the street for inspiration, subject matter,
a stage, and even the raw materials of their art making.
From September 14, 2008 to January 25, 2009, the Bronx Museum of the Arts examines this
fascination in Street Art, Street Life: From the 1950s to Now. The far ranging exhibition, one
of the largest to consider the subject, has been organized by guest curator Lydia Yee, curator
at the Barbican Art Gallery, London. Yee identifies the street as a pervasive and cohesive
thread binding today’s vanguard artists and photographers to those of preceding generations.
Robert Frank, William Klein, Jacques de la Villeglé, Yoko Ono, Vito Acconci, Martha
Rosler, Sophie Calle, Nikki S. Lee and Francis Alÿs are among those represented by street
photography, documentation of performances and ephemeral actions, videos, and art objects
fashioned from found materials. New works by Xaviera Simmons and Fatimah Tuggar, cocommissioned
by the Bronx Museum of the Arts and the Public Art Fund, will spill out onto
the Bronx’s widely featured boulevard, the Grand Concourse, and with a special commission,
Blank Noise Project from India will make its U.S. debut.

“One of my key aims is to situate compelling new art by a diverse group of younger artists in
a rich historical context. The exhibition presents many intersecting paths—documentary
photography, performance, conceptualism, activism, and street culture,” says Yee, who
conceived of the exhibition while a senior curator at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, where
she organized several other exhibitions on urban topics including Urban Mythologies (1999)
and One Planet under a Groove (2001).

“The vitality of the Bronx flows from its street culture, the connections people make on the
corner, front stoop, or public park,” says Holly Block, director, Bronx Museum of the Arts.
“During the period of this exhibition, the museum will draw both from these roots and the
global conversation to present a series of concerts, talks, and panel discussions.”

A giant street fair in front of the Museum will happen on the Grand Concourse on the
afternoon of Sunday, September 14, to celebrate the opening of the exhibition.


Street Art, Street Life begins in the late 1950s and early 1960s, at the end of the classic age of
photojournalism. Brash, motion-filled black and white photographs by William Klein and the
sly photojournalism of Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander reflect a new, de-skilled and
post-aesthetic approach to photography. Grainy offset posters publicizing Free Flux-Tours,
photographs of the Fluxus performances on Canal Street, and other Fluxus ephemera, show
how George Maciunas, Nam June Paik, Dick Higgins, Ben Vautier, Alison Knowles, and
fellow Fluxus artists began to devise ways to spontaneously encounter the public.

Other artists will be seen to have transformed cast-offs found in the streets into art materials,
whether it be the torn poster on view by the affichiste Jacques de la Villeglé or the
newspaper/ink/watercolor collage that a young Claes Oldenburg fashioned for a solo show at the
Reuben Gallery in New York in 1960.

By the end of that decade, works of art were beginning to straddle the line between street
photography, photojournalism, and conceptualism, as artists began to employ photography to
document actions. Gritty photographs from Vito Acconci’s Following Piece (1969) show the artist
randomly following a person on the street as part of a month-long action in which he followed a
different person until he or she entered a private space . VALIE EXPORT’s Aus der Mappe der
Hundigkeit (From the Portfolio of Doggedness) (1968) documents another performance that
required the unscripted stage of the street for realization and the medium of photography for
immortalization: in the photographs, she is seen walking Peter Weibel on a leash, on all fours,
through the streets of Vienna.

The exhibition continues through the 1970s and 1980s with Martha Rosler’s groundbreaking
text/image panels of derelict storefronts along the Bowery from 1974/75 and performance
artist Tehching Hsieh’s photographs of the year he spent in New York City (1981/82) without
ever entering an enclosed space, except for a night he spent in jail. Martin Wong’s painting of
a fenced and chained Pentecostal church on the Lower East Side (1986), and photographs of
street fashion and culture by Jamel Shabazz demonstrate other ways in which artists and
photographers responded to anomie, homelessness, urban decay, and gentrification during
these decades.

Photographs by Nikki S. Lee suggest that street personas are as constructed and questionable
as is the reading of a photograph, and Allan Sekula’s slide projection documenting a
demonstration during the meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle (1999) are
among the works on view from the decade that followed, the ‘90s.

The impulse of the artist to capture the life of the street as ‘archivist’ is evident in Street Art,
Street Life: From the 1950s to Now. As part of Francis Alÿs’ Instantáneas (1994-present),
some 140 snapshots taken from the 1940s to the ‘60s will be featured, all purchased by the
artist in flea markets and vendors in Mexico City.

Daniel Guzmán, Kimsooja, Sze Tsung Leong, and Robin Rhode are among the other
contemporary artists represented in the exhibition, all of whom have emerged in the 1990s
against the backdrop of the rapid development and growth of mega cities in Africa, Asia, and
Latin America.


Street Art, Street Life illustrates how from the ‘50s onward artists have used the street to
critique the institution of art. But as the visitor will see, their different approaches suggest
that ground—the street—was itself unstable and shifting,” says Frazer Ward, assistant
professor, Department of Art, Smith College, and a contributor to the catalogue. He
continues,” “Perhaps that’s what explains the continuing lure of the street.”
The exhibition is accompanied by a comprehensive 114-page catalogue published in
collaboration with Aperture and distributed by DAP. Street Art, Street Life: From the 1950s
to Now includes essays by Lydia Yee; Katherine A. Bussard; and Frazer Ward.

Street Art, Street Life is made possible by the Emily Hall Tremaine Exhibition Award,
JPMorgan Chase Foundation, a MetLife Foundation Museum and Community Connections
grant and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Additional support has been
provided by the Peter Jay Sharp Foundation, the New York Council for the Humanities and
Etant donnés: The French-American Fund for Contemporary Art.
The Bronx Museum of the Arts receives ongoing general operating support from the New
York City Department of Cultural Affairs with the cooperation of Bronx Borough President
Adolfo Carrion Jr. and the Bronx Delegation of the New York City Council, New York State
Council on the Arts, Bronx Delegation of the New York State Assembly, and private sources.



Panel Discussion: Unreal Streets
New York University, Einstein Auditorium
Admission: Free

T.S. Eliot summed up the general mood of urban life between the wars in two words: “Unreal
cities.” Over the years, however, his phrase has become identified with a certain concept of
modernism that proposes to dissolve the boundaries between the private and the social, the
material and the spiritual. Curator Lydia Yee and guest speakers examine the enduring
fascination of cities and street life on contemporary artists.
Panelists: Lydia Yee, Katherine Bussard, Fatimah Tuggar and Frazer Ward. Introduced by Sergio Bessa

B-Girl City in NYC
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2:00 to 8:00 pm
South Building—Lower Gallery
Admission: Free

The national b-girl dance marathon initiated in Texas by Ereina ”Honeyrockwell” Valencia
comes to the Bronx! Featuring one-on-one b-girl battle, one-on-one b-boy battle, “three’s
company” battle (two girls and one guy), kids’ crew battle, word of mouth battle, b-girl
fashion show, and much more. DJ’s will be spinning the entire afternoon and into the

Outdoor Fair
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 12 to 5pm
Sidewalk outside the Bronx Museum of the Arts
Admission: Free

For the opening day of Street Art Street Life, the Bronx Museum will sponsor a grand street
fair on the sidewalk immediately in front of the Museum. Highlights include live D.J. and
performances, arts activities for families, street food, and local artisans.
First Fridays! – High Water in the Bronx

A Squeeze Radio Show Case.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 3, 6:00 to 10:00 pm
South Wing – Lower Gallery
Admission: Free
This special First Fridays! program will feature the entire roster of talent plus special guests
from High Water an independent Hip Hop record label run by Sucio Smash. Be there as
they record a live radio show for later broadcast.
Hosted by Timm See (Squeeze Radio Show) with music by DJ Sucio Smash (Squeeze
Radio Show). And featuring High Water artists: Sadat X, Fresh Daily, P. Casso, Sputnik
Brown and much more.

Read This Word
North Wing—2nd Floor
Admission: $5.00, free for Bronx Museum members
In an interview with writer and poet Craig Dworkin, editor of Language to Cover a Page
The Early Writings of Vito Acconci (MIT, 2006), Vito Acconci will discuss his early poetry
and how it influenced the future phases in his rich career.

First Fridays! – Africa2K: The Griots Invazion
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 6:00 to 10:00pm
South Building—Lower Gallery
Admission: Free
Emerging from the concept of Y2K, this Bronx Museum First Fridays! program is a
metaphorical expression of modern African culture in the new millennium.
Featuring the screening of “African Underground: Democracy on Dakar”, directed by
Ben Herson, the film will be followed by a panel discussion with filmmakers and African
artists. There will also be a live music performance by African Underground All Stars – the
world’s premier African GLOBAL HIP-HOP group featuring MCs from Africa and the

Panel Discussion: Street / Language
North Building—2nd Floor
Admission: $5.00, free for Bronx Museum members
For centuries, the sounds, vernaculars and visuals that populate our cities’ streets have been
sources of undying fascination to artists and writers who see in this plurality not merely a
picture of social stratification but a true testament to the wealth of language.
STREET/LANGUAGE will feature poet Kenneth Goldsmith, sound artist Kabir Carter, and
Vancouver-based writer and performer, Christian Bök in a lively discussion on the role street
culture play in their work. The event will culminate in a series of performances by the three
Panelists: Christian Bök, Kabir Carter, Kenneth Goldsmith. Moderated by Sergio Bessa.

Panel Discussion: Street as Site of Globalization
The New School, Tishman Auditorium
Admission Free
Organized in conjunction with Aperture’s Confounding Expectations: Photography in
Context Lecture Series; Parsons The New School for Design and the Vera List Center for Art
and Politics at the New School.
First Fridays! – Cabiosile pa’ Shango!

A Musical Tribute to the Forces of Fire and Healing
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 5, 6:00 to 10:00pm
South Wing – Lower Gallery
Admission: Free
Join the Bronx Museum’s First Fridays! musical tribute to the forces of fire and healing.
Hosted by Marinieves Alba/ The Zol Lab and featuring live music by Afro-Caribbean group
Illu Aye with DJ Laylo, this event will have you on your feet and inspired.
Illu Aye’s dedication to promoting the rich cultural legacy of Africa in the Americas and the
Caribbean through performance since 2004 celebrates the connections between the peoples
and cultures of the African diaspora. Trained by master musicians and versed in sacred and
popular rythms such as bata, guiro, rumba (Cuba); bomba and plena (Puerto Rico); and palos,
salves, and kongos (Dominican Republic), Illu Aye will be bursting with all of your favorite


The flagship cultural institution of The Bronx, founded in 1971, The Bronx Museum of the
Arts focuses on 20th-century and contemporary art, while serving the culturally diverse
populations of The Bronx and the greater New York metropolitan area. The museum’s home
on the Grand Concourse is a distinctive contemporary landmark designed by the
internationally-renowned firm Arquitectonica.
The Bronx Museum of the Arts maintains a permanent collection of 20th and 21st-century
works by artists of African, Asian, and Latin American ancestry. Additionally, the Museum
collects works by artists for whom The Bronx has been critical to their artistic practice and
development. The Museum’s educational offerings spring from these central programs with
outreach to children and families as well as adult audiences.
The Bronx Museum of the Arts receives ongoing general operating support from The New
York City Department of Cultural Affairs with the cooperation of Bronx Borough President
Adolfo Carrión, Jr., and the Bronx Delegation of the New York City Council; New York
State Council on the Arts; Bronx Delegation of the New York State Assembly; and private


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